Camping Guide:Yosemite National Park

views of yosemite's granite cliffs as seen from Tioga Pass

While Yellowstone was the first national park, Yosemite is easily the flagship offering of the National Park Service, with its iconic granite cliffs overlooking Yosemite Valley, Sequoia groves, towering waterfalls and wildlife abundant. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the park sees over 4 million visitors each year.

That said, having a plan, and reservations, when visiting Yosemite is an absolute must.

RV Camping in Yosemite National Park

At least nine of Yosemite’s campgrounds can accommodate RVs, and another three can easily accommodate our Winnebago Revel and Airstream Interstate Class B RVs / vans.

From spring through fall, it is almost unheard of to get a spot at one of these campgrounds without a reservation, as even the first come, first served sites tend to fill up by noon. Reservations can be made here.

Should you choose to visit the park in the off season, getting a spot during the week is considerably more realistic.

Most campgrounds cost $26 / night, not including any reservation fees nor entrance to the park, which will run you $35 for seven nights. You can also buy a Yosemite-only annual pass for $70 / year or for $80 / year, get the annual national park pass which will get you into all of the national parks, monuments and the like across the nation.

Note that none of the campgrounds in the park have water, electric or sewer hookups.

Camping Upper Pines, Lower Pines and North Pines

Yosemite’s most popular campgrounds are a reservations required affair, and put you right in the heart of the bustling Yosemite Valley’s Yosemite Village. While you’ll be camping in the shade of towering sugar pines and having deer, squirrels and a variety of birds passing through your campsite won’t be unheard of, don’t expect a ton of privacy as the campsites are relatively close together.

The campgrounds have flushing toilets, and are the most conveniently located if you’d like to use the showers at Curry Village and Housekeeping Camp. Two of the parks have a dump station, and all have dumpsters available.

It’s a two mile hike (each way) to Yosemite Village, but the park has a shuttle which will allow you to keep the RV parked and explore nearly every major attraction without needing to drive on your own — a wise choice given the often busy nature of the park’s roads.

Yosemite Village is every bit a town, and perhaps not what you may expect as far as the amount of people present, when visiting a national park. This comes with the added side effects of access to a visitor center, art gallery, restaurants and plenty of cell service to go around, a rare amenity not only in Yosemite, but national parks in general.

Crane Flat, Hodgdon Meadow and Tamarack Flat Campgrounds

These three campgrounds are located at the opposite end of Yosemite Valley as are the “Pines” camps.

While Tamarack Flat is marked as “RVs not recommended” by the park service, small RVs such as our Class B vans will have no problem fitting into a spot, and this is one of the more likely places you’ll find an open campsite should you have decided to arrive without a reservation.

Crane Flat features a dense, moss-laden camping experience, surrounded by beautiful meadows, and centrally located to many of the sites Yosemite has to offer. It also puts you at the beginning of Tioga Pass, one of the parks most exciting drives.

Hogdon Meadow is perhaps the least desirable of the three campgrounds, though given that you’re in the literal paradise that is Yosemite, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

All three of the campgrounds have flush toilets, water access (though it is often turned off in the colder months) and trash service.

Bridalveil Creek

Centrally located in Yosemite Valley, this summer-only campground is first come, first served – though don’t expect to roll in at dusk and find an available spot, as it’s often the first place people check upon discovering the Pines campgrounds are full. As of 2019, the campground no longer has running water of any kind, so expect port-a-potties and either bring your own water, or have a filtration device if you want to source your water from the creek itself.

Wawona

Note that this campground is closed until April 20th, 2020.

This campground is located on Yosemite’s southern entrance, closer to the sequoia groves than Yosemite Valley. It’s a dense forest with a creek running nearby, as is the highway. Perks of staying here are being within 20 minutes of the Mariposa Grove, where the mountainside is covered in sugar pines and Sequoias both skyscraper high, and entering the rest of the park through the stunning Wawona Tunnel.

Flush toilets, access to water and trash service is available, but there are no showers. There are also a few amenities in the nearby town of Wawona, such as a grocery store, gas station and visitors center.

Cell phone reception is spotty at best.

White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows and Porcupine Flat Camping

These three parks are located on Tioga Pass, a winding road coated in sweeping views which leads travelers from Yosemite Valley to the Eastern Sierras.

Tuolumne Meadows is by far the most popular, with immediate access to groceries, a gas station, outdoor gear and even a post office. The surrounding area is a gorgeous combination of forested hikes, birds and bees swimming above the wildflower-laden meadows and rustling creeks to drown out the noises of other campers and park goers. Expect a good view of your neighbors, with the individual campsites being quite close to one another, but if you don’t mind a little company and appreciate the amenities listed above, this is an absolutely spectacular place to camp.

Porcupine Flat and White Wolf tend to be slightly more low key, as they don’t have as many amenities nor the brand recognition of Tuolumne. That said, and especially White Wolf which is situated down a side road from the main pass, you can expect a bit more of that traditional camping vibe than you’ll find in the valley or at Tuolumne Meadows.

While Porcupine Flat is listed as RVs not recommended, you’ll have no trouble fitting into most of the spots in our vans.

While Tuolumne Meadows has a dump station, flushing toilets, easy access to water and trash service, the other two campgrounds are considerably more primitive.

Yosemite Creek

Another campground listed by the park service as “RVs not recommended,” Yosemite Creek does have parking spots, they’re just not always conducive to the van-camping experience, since some of the sites are geared more toward tents. That said, some sites will certainly accommodate our vans and this is a lovely campground in general…assuming it’s open. Early snowfall or downed trees often leave this, seemingly the park’s least maintained campground, closed without warning.

Free Camping Outside of Yosemite National Park

There is no “boondocking” in Yosemite, at least not in the free sense. However, the park is surrounded by national forest and — if you don’t mind a long drive into the park every day — you’ll find sufficient free camping there.

Nelder Grove Campground is in the Sierra National Forest, south of the park, and should you choose this as your basecamp, you’ll find yourself an hour’s drive from the Mariposa Grove and closer to two hours from Yosemite Valley. The road leading in is a bit treacherous, and the campground itself is a collage of fallen trees and dense forest. Some would say it’s an ideal, free camping experience while others may be a bit perturbed at just how truly wild the area is.
GPS: 37.4305, -119.5845

Several other campgrounds, all even further away from the park, provide additional options. Upper Chiquito Campground (GPS: 37.502, -119.409) and Clover Meadow Campground (GPS: 37.529, -119.28) place you an hour and a half or more from the park’s southern entrance, while Jerseydale Campground (GPS: 37.5451, -119.8385) is located just over an hour from the southern entrance, to the west of the park but still in the Sierra National Forest.

If you don’t mind driving the Tioga Pass every time you want to enter the park, or if you’re leaving the park headed east, free camping is available on Grant Lake (GPS: 37.8478, -119.1161), which also puts you near the charming town of Lee Vining and the salty Mono Lake, with it’s impressive rock formations.

Full Hookup Camping near Yosemite National Park

If you want to be able to plugin and have running water while you’re visiting Yosemite, you’ll need camp at a handful of private RV parks in the region, the closest being just under an hour’s drive to Yosemite Village.

Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails (GPS: 37.8114, -119.9468) is the nearest full hookup affair, located a few miles outside of Groveland, California, putting you on the western side of Yosemite. In exchange for the long drive, you’ll get access to amenities like basketball and volleyball courts, a playground, game room, hot showers, laundry, general store, even WiFi.

Other RV parks with hookups near Groveland, CA include:

On the eastern side of Yosemite, Grant Lake Marina (GPS: 37.8307, -119.1225) is a cottonwood-lined lakefront rendezvous with the desert, putting you on the Tioga Pass side of things, about 2 hours from Yosemite Village and forty minutes from Tuolumne Meadows. Mono Vista RV Park (GPS: 37.9594, -119.1228) is located immediately in Lee Vining, and a similar distance from the national park.